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Transcendent Awareness

by on November 29, 2013

Transcendent Awareness

                            by Marco M. Pardi

 “What is word knowledge but a shadow of wordless knowledge?” KAHLIL GIBRAN (1883-1931) “The Farewell”, The Prophet, 1925.

“If ya’ heard the shot, it didn’t kill ya'”. Thus spake Ochoa, a 5’8″ pole of buffalo jerky whose glass eye seemed to migrate from one socket to the other. A SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) tactical instructor for deep penetration special operations groups, he was making a point (albeit not entirely correct, as some of us found out).  When a shocking event, such as a gunshot, occurs there is a tendency to freeze the moment into an ongoing present. “OMG, I was shot at! OMG, I am shot at!” 

Doing so obscures the present, and can cost one his life.  A more colorful expansion of this concept was the oft repeated, “When you live with one foot in the past and one foot in the future you wind up pissing on the present.”

In 1971 Baba Ram Dass, nee Richard Alpert (Ph.D.) wrote Be Here Now, derived from his yogic studies with Bhagavan Dass. A journal of his spiritual journey from a time managed and unconsciously confined Western mind to the open and serene transcendence of an awakened one, it was    quickly co-opted by the Hippies.  And, as happens when living in the Great Miasma, it became the rationale for the uber selfish, the hedonists, the profligate, and the other vermin we went to high school with.

The message, though, is simple if somewhat subtle. The now is fully present; it does not contain the past, but is what it is because the past was what it was.  In that respect we acknowledge the past, but do not try to spread it into the present. The past does not exist. The present to which it gave rise is what, if anything, exists.

This false practice, spreading the past into the present, can also work in reverse. In my twenties I sometimes had memories of something I did when I was 12. Immediately flushing with embarrassment I hoped no bystanders could read my mind. Oh, was I stupid then. This practice went on for several years, looking back from each new year to self judge and criticize the stupidity of the previous years. Before long the sheer volume of my life, and my seemingly stupid actions seemed to leave me less space in which I could confidently stand in the present. I fell into the habit of saying that what I think is smart now will prove stupid later.    

Epiphany. I realized I was applying the behavioral standards of a 25 year old to the behavior of a 12 year old. Of course there would still be mortifying moments. But I realized that memories often come as snap shots; they show the what while rarely showing the why.

People often speak glibly of karma as if it is something which accumulates and is stored in a trunk in the attic until you die. And then, whammo, you are doomed to live a next life in which you try to accumulate enough merits to counter-balance the demerits. But, awareness, in its fullest form, allows us to constantly be mindful of the why that goes with the what.  Understanding, in “real time”, the full context of being is moment-to-moment fullness. Not an opportunity to dismiss the past as irrelevant, but an opportunity to learn how my present is enhanced by the lessons I learn from a proper analysis of my past. This does not drag my past into my present. It expands my present, enabling vision which is not merely linear but is instead omni-directional. I more clearly see that I am where I am because everything else is where it is. And, by my being I play a role in the being of everything else. When examined, nothing goes into storage.

Karma, then, is not some personal debt crisis, with compounding interest. It is the real time DOW, NASDAC, and S&P 500 of our lives in the full context of everything else.

How does this, if it does, figure into what we think of as future? Future, too, is by definition non-existent; it is not, yet. And when it becomes, it is present. Much of my life has been spent in higher education. One of the most common questions traded among students is, “What’s your major?” This may be a more age appropriate way of asking, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Quite often I hear answers which, in the context of discussion indicate that the speaker, at Point A, has identified a state of being, Point M, with little thought given to the intervening steps. This is especially evident when a student is asked, “What are you doing these days?” and the answer is, “Oh, nothing. I’m a student.”

The future may never “come”. I can think of at least two students who died during terms in which they were taking my classes. (My classes are not that tough.)  Growing up in the West in the early years of the Cold War I heard and read regular disparagements of the 5 Year Plans so common in the Soviet era. But looking at the personal chaos of the lives around me I began to think 5 year plans are not such a bad thing.

Later, in the military, I learned that, “The first casualty of war is the battle plan.” Why?  Obviously it is because even the best planners cannot foresee every possibility and every contingency. The operant retrenchment phrase was then, “Plan the plan, not the outcome.” 

So which is it? On The Road with Jack Kerouac? Siddhartha with Hermann Hesse? Or Atlas Shrugged with Ayn Rand? Most of us are familiar with the Buddhist aphorism, The root of all suffering is desire. And, we’ve heard When you want what you have, you will have what you want.

What is desire, and how does it harm us? First, it is a state. A phenomenological approach helps us to understand this state and its progression.

1. It is the state of feeling a lack or deficiency.

   A. This may remain obscure, as in “I don’t know what I want. I just feel empty somehow.”

         1. Do I want to act on it?

         2. Do I need to act on it?

         3. Am I aware of the difference between want and need?

   B.  The mere act of going shopping, with no particular goal speaks of this feeling. Impulse buying, and buyer’s regret are common    results. Perhaps relatively harmless outcomes when acquiring objects, but what about acquiring people? Or pets?

2. The state being unresolved after various failed efforts, the person may turn to hope.

     A. Hope can be damaging. Like the student whose focus while at Point A

           is on Point M with no concrete pathway between, hope can distract us

           from crafting the objectives while focusing us on the goal. This is like

           walking a minefield with our eyes on the horizon instead of carefully

           scanning the ground for the placement of the next step.

      B. Fortunes have been made on the sale of hope, whether through the

           genre of self-help books or the ministrations of mainstream or

           otherwise religions and “New Age vizualization”.  

Without an action plan, hope is fantasy. As Sgt. Ochoa would say, “The cavalry ain’t comin’. Get cover. Identify threat. Neutralize threat.”

If hope without a plan seems empty, a plan itself obviates hope. Readiness, even in the face of the amorphous “future”, is a simple Boolean (George Boole, English mathematician circa 1860) progression paradigm; If this, then that.

Some readers may recognize elements of Bushido, derived from Zen (Sanskrit: Dhyana) which is claimed to have passed directly from Siddhartha Gautama to Mahakasyapa as “the eye of the right law”. The core of Dhyana was the living nirvana (Sanskrit: Nir vana; beyond wind). Nir vana is not a place to go. It is not a state of mindless oblivion. It is a state which recognizes the buffeting winds of distraction, attraction, calls for response, and temptations to succumb to difficulties.

In 1970 Alvin Toffler published a book titled Future Shock in which he described a personal syndrome of debilitating anxiety stemming from “too much change in too short a period of time“. The profound international success of the book indicated it struck a chord. Even now, a popular acronym is TMI, Too Much Information.

Working my way through various martial art forms years ago I noticed that some of my colleagues appeared to be trying to live in a constant state of absolute readiness. Never one interested in touching other people unnecessarily, I was spared the likely “dust up”. But even a coiled spring suffers fatigue. It is often said that police officers sometimes over react because they have not learned to distinguish between general readiness and threat specific response.

Transcendent awareness, however, is a state to which a meditator aspires when “monkey mind” (the fleeting intrusion of “random” thoughts and the chasing after those thoughts like a monkey through the tree tops) is recognized but not followed. Awareness but not surrender. Transcendent awareness. Nir vana. The stillness and peace discovered, with no loss of awareness whatsoever.

Inner peace is beyond victory or defeat. Bhagavad Gita (6th cent. BCE) 18.26.

“I do not want the peace which passeth understanding. I want the understanding which bringeth peace.” Helen Keller. (1880-1968).

 

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4 Comments
  1. Rose Palmer permalink

    I know it’s been a long time since this was posted, but maybe it’s time I shared my thoughts on the subject. A very wise man once told me that you have to let a child make a child’s mistakes; recognizing that the adult the child has become would not behave in the same manner. We’ve all done things of which we are not proud, but we must forgive ourselves or we will forever be stuck in the past.

    Karma may well be the sum of the accumulated good and not-so-good we have done in our lives, but a well-lived life will certainly be in balance at the end; or at least nearly so. We are the sum of everything that has ever happened in our lives; everything which we have done in response to those happenings. Examining our past actions objectively should help us to understand why we have become the people we are now.

    Just because we have a goal in sight doesn’t mean we can clearly see the pathway to achieving that goal. No path, even if it appears clear, is without pitfalls and stumbling blocks. There have been many goals in my life which I was not able to see to fruition, but I believe that my pathway has led me to where I am meant to be. Who knows but that another path would have lead me far from the wonderful people who now share this life with me. Rose

    • Thanks, Rose. I’ve heard people say we should all start old and grow young. Where’s the fun in that? Marco

      • Tristan Bohling permalink

        That is a good point, Prof. Pardi. However, there is one quote on living backwards that I find (as humorous as it is) somewhat appealing:

        “In my next life I want to live my life backwards. You start out dead and get that out of the way. Then you wake up in an old people’s home feeling better every day. You get kicked out for being too healthy, go collect your pension, and then when you start work, you get a gold watch and a party on your first day. You work for 40 years until you’re young enough to enjoy your retirement. You party, drink alcohol, and are generally promiscuous, then you are ready for high school. You then go to primary school, you become a kid, you play. You have no responsibilities, you become a baby until you are born. And then you spend your last 9 months floating in luxurious spa-like conditions with central heating and room service on tap, larger quarters every day and then Voila! You finish off as an orgasm!” — Woody Allen.

        – Tristan Bohling.

  2. Yes, Tristan. That’s a classic. Thanks for finding it.

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